China goes back to closing itself in on traditional positions in its relations with the Holy See. Academy of Social Sciences: "Beijing fears that Catholics will follow the Pope more than the government".
Beijing (AsiaNews) China puts the blame back on the Vatican for not doing enough to improve diplomatic relations. Kong Quan, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said that the Holy See in China expects "facts" and not "words". This is how Kong commented on statements by Cardinal Angelo Sodano according to which Rome is willing to immediately transfer its nunciature from Taipei to Beijing.
The Chinese government Kong says holds the "sincere desire" to improve relations with the Vatican which, however, must "follow up their words with facts."
Kong went as far as to quote the two traditional paths that Beijing requires from the Holy See as pre-conditions to entering into any dialogue: the breaking of diplomatic relations with Taipei; "non-interference in China's internal affairs on the pretence of religion."
Kong's statements bring the frost back to Beijing/Holy See relations after several signs of a thaw.
Immediately following John Paul II's funeral, when China suffered international embarrassment for its absence, prominent government figures busied themselves with promising to normalize relations with the Vatican and to open up toward the Catholic Church. In particular, China had promised to clear the way for various bishops to attend the Synod on the Eucharist, recently held in Rome. Furthermore, Beijing had officially requested the presence of Sisters of Mother Teresa in Qingdao (Shandong). Though these "words" have been given, none have so far been transformed into "facts". Even the country's religion policy is taking steps both forwards and backwards: the acceptance of various bishops nominated by the Vatican; an increase in campaigns against underground Christians, and bishops pressured to sign up with the Patriotic Association under the threat of death.
Cardinal Sodano's statements had underscored two elements:
a) China must treat the Vatican like other states: the Vatican is the only state that Beijing is asking to break ties with the Taiwan as a pre-condition. This happened neither with the United States, nor with South Korea, nor with South Africa;
b) China must guarantee full religious freedom to the Catholic faithful. "Civil governments do not have the right to tell men and women how they must live their faith," the Vatican's Secretary of State had pointed out.
With regard to religious freedom, Kong said that "the Constitution guarantees religious freedom and anyone can see that more and more people are following a religion and that there are more and more places where people can worship." In reality, China allows religious freedom only with personnel and in places registered with the Religious Affairs Bureau and under the minute control of the Patriotic Association. Anyone who practices his faith beyond these conditions is considered "a delinquent" subject to legal sanction. According to AsiaNews, dozens of bishops and priests of the non-official Church are in prison or isolated because of this.
Cardinal Sodano's statements had highlighted that the question of Taiwan is a "non-problem." Kong's statements confirm that the strongest obstacle is that of full religious freedom.
A prominent figure of the Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing told AsiaNews that the government of Beijing "has understood the Vatican's importance in the world, but does not want to resolve the question in the right way. China is not able to understand that a division between state and church is needed; the government fears that, at a time of crisis, Catholics will obey the Pope more than China."